My Complicated Relationship with Gender and Star Wars

first_imgStay on target I found myself surprised by what was on my mind as I walked out of the theater at the end of Solo: A Star Wars Story. It wasn’t how great Lando was and it wasn’t how surprised I was that I ended up liking the movie as much as I did. No, it was Qi’ra. Emilia Clarke’s character has been on my mind from the moment the credits rolled. She’s unlike any female protagonist the franchise has featured so far and I’ve been going over her arc in my head ever since, thinking about the ways in which I’ve related to it at different points in my life. I’ve found myself wondering two things: one, why I’m remotely surprised a female lead walked away as the most memorable part of a Star Wars movie (even if you’re an L3 stan, the statement applies). Two, how much I could have benefited from seeing this character onscreen fifteen years ago.Growing up, you’re Han or you’re Luke. Maybe if you’re the moody one you’re Darth Vader because if you’re going to play Star Wars your group needs a bad guy. More often than not, though, you’re Han or you’re Luke. Later on the dynamic shifted slightly: Anakin or Obi-Wan. You’re one of those two, or maybe you’re Maul, or Yoda right around the time Attack of the Clones came out. In all the years I spent playing with toy blasters and lightsabers with my friends as a child, though, I never got what I really wanted. I never got to be Leia. For most of my life I’ve been conditioned to believe that Star Wars is for boys. Girls had Barbie and My Little Pony and later on in life they had One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl. Boys had sports and boys had comic books, but most importantly, boys had Star Wars. Star Wars, which gave us lightsabers and the Force, which gave us the Millennium Falcon, which gave us the two perfect avatars through which we as boys could focus our budding masculinity: Luke, the straight-laced optimistic dreamer, and Han, the smarmy bad boy. You were one or the other, and you liked it. I thought I liked it.I always wanted to be Princess Leia. Everything about her was magnetic to me from the moment she graced the screen. The way she held herself, how clear she made it that she didn’t have time for anybody’s shit, the moment she stood up to Vader, god, everything about her was perfect. It showed me, for the first time in my life, what kind of person I wanted to be when I grew up. But young boys aren’t allowed to be Princess Leia. You’re Han or you’re Luke. There’s weakness in looking up to women as young men and it carries over into ever facet of life, even big dumb space wizard laser sword movies. Episode I hit theaters when I was in the 1st grade. I liked the movie well enough—being seven years old at the time I hadn’t developed, uh, taste—but was especially excited when I discovered a series of novelizations of the film that told the story through journals written by different characters. My parents gave me the Anakin novelization for Christmas that year. I don’t remember reading it. I just remember finding the Padme journal at our local library and checking it out several times, pouring over its pages and then starting the book over as soon as I finished it. The story of a young queen in disguise and on the run drew me in far more than trade disputes and a ten-year-old Podracer with a bowl cut. I stifled this and had it stifled for years and years, through societal conditioning and my parents quietly ignoring my birthday request for a Princess Leia doll and through being too embarrassed to admit to my friends that I didn’t want to be Luke or Han or Vader or a Stormtrooper, I wanted to be Leia. And mind you, this isn’t the problem but rather a symptom of it. Even in something as far removed from our reality as a space opera, men have long been encouraged to reject the feminine. It’s a toxic cycle. We go on to reject the feminine both around us and inside of us, recognizing it as weakness even at its strongest. It cuts us off from aspects of ourselves that should be nurtured, especially at a young age.My time in college exposed me for the first time to concepts of gender theory, queer identity, all of the things that make for a generally socially conscious person in the year 2018. I like to think it worked, that it changed me for the better. I try to be more conscious of the way I conduct myself. I try to be more empathetic, more open to views with which I’m unfamiliar. I try to use my position of privilege as a white man to lift up the voices of those without that privilege, all while rediscovering my understanding of my own gender and sexuality. What’s harder is reconciling how long it took me to get here and how much I clearly felt this way as a child but was convinced to steer away from. Star Wars has shaped my identity over the last couple of decades, less in the sense that my identity is defined by my being a Star Wars fan and more in that we actualize and understand ourselves through the stories that we love. I love Star Wars and see the world the way I see it because of it. But I didn’t learn soon enough the role that gender enforced my experience with it and because of that my relationship with Star Wars has been shifted, stilted, and stifled. It was in ways that make me wonder what I could have learned about myself as I grew up had I not been conditioned by everyone from my friends to marketing teams to distance myself from the ways I related to and aspired to the franchise’s female protagonists. The landscape of Star Wars today is drastically different from the one I grew up with and that’s for the better. Three of the four films in the Disney era have been anchored by compelling female protagonists (that’s not even taking into consideration characters like Ahsoka Tano, Sabine Wren, and Hera who elevate the Star Wars animated universe beautifully). It’s been wonderful to witness as an adult fan of the franchise. I see these movies anchored by these women and on one hand, I’m thrilled because of how indicative of progress it is. Star Wars is no longer a story about white men. A galaxy far far away suddenly looks far more like the world I see outside my window. But I also see an opportunity for young boys to experience Star Wars the way I wasn’t able to. I see an opportunity for them to embrace feminine heroes, ones that don’t reinforce traditional perceptions of what masculinity should be. I see the argument The Last Jedi makes against Poe Dameron’s hotheaded recklessness, traits the franchise has put on a pedestal in the past, and hope that those same boys take the message to heart: even the healthier aspects of traditional masculinity can quickly become toxic if taken to the extremes so much of fiction encourages men to.I never got the chance to learn these lessons from Star Wars growing up, but it hasn’t stopped me from trying to make up for lost time. I look to Jyn Erso and remember how important it is to allow yourself to believe in something bigger than yourself, to give yourself to it and let it change you for the better. I see Rose and am reminded that love wins where hate never can. Rey’s reconciling her past with her future and finding her place in a confusing world came to me when I was fresh out of college and navigating a new world. Qi’ra shows me a character who recognizes that her femininity is perceived as weakness by the powerful men surrounding her and uses their preconceived notions of what she’s capable of to outplay them all. And, as always, the princess who became a General serves as a North Star for me in adulthood just as she did twenty years ago the first time I saw her mouth off to the scariest man in the galaxy like he was a Long Island used car salesman trying to upsell her. The difference is that now I’m comfortable enough in my identity to, rather than suppress it, let it guide me every day. Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.center_img Star Wars x Adidas Ultraboost Photos Have Leaked’Star Wars Pinball’ Has Your Favorite Brand in Ball Form last_img

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